Poor Americans Are More Likely To Use Bogus Diet Supplements

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"Poor Americans Are More Likely To Use Bogus Diet Supplements"

For nearly a century, scientists have struggled to come up with a diet pill that helps people lose weight without causing side effects that range from embarrassing digestive issues to dangerous heart problems.

For nearly a century, scientists have struggled to come up with a diet pill that helps people lose weight without causing side effects that range from embarrassing digestive issues to dangerous heart problems.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Poor people in the United States — a group that experiences significantly higher levels of obesity — are more likely to take on ineffective, unconventional weight-loss methods, including the use of over-the-counter diet pills that have been proven not to work, a recent study suggests.

Researchers from Concordia University in Montreal examined the incomes and habits of more than 3,000 children and teenagers between the ages of eight and 19 and more than 5,000 adults over the age of 20. Their findings, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, showed that participants making between $20,000 and $75,000 annually were more likely to experiment with diet pills. Additionally, participants making less than $20,000 were 50 percent less likely to exercise, 42 percent less like to drink lots of water, and 25 percent less likely to cut down on sweets and sugars.

The vastly divergent weight-loss methods resulted in drastically different results for people in various income brackets. Among the two-thirds of the subjects in the study who attempted to lose weight, adults and youth gained an average of three pounds and 12 pounds, respectively. People in the lower income brackets gained an average of two more pounds than their more well-to-do counterparts.

Weight-loss supplements are designed to suppress one’s appetite, increase metabolism, and stop the absorption of food nutrients that increase body fat. While doctors often prescribe certain brands — including orlistat, Belviq, phentermine, and Qsymia — they advise that their use be coupled with adequate exercise and diet. Although manufacturers claim that weight-loss supplements contain natural ingredients, some health experts warn that even a short period of use poses a great risk. Side effects include nausea, fatigue, dry mouth, and constipation. Weight-loss supplements can also cause liver failure, as more than 100 people across the country recently learned.

The reasons for the significant use of weight-loss supplements among poor Americans go beyond lack of exercise and unhealthy habits. People living in low-income communities often don’t have access to healthy food sources, even with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at their disposal. While the United States has safer drinking water than some parts of the world, outdated federal laws meant to protect freshwater leave poor people — a group often reliant on tap water — susceptible to water-borne pathogens. Additionally, the stresses of an unpredictable work schedule and financial obligations on a meager budget make little time to exercise or diet.

Unfortunately, poor people have not been only preyed upon by producers of ineffective weight-loss supplements; they’re also at risk for other scams taking advantage of their socioeconomic status. Each year, more than 12 million Americans incur long-term debt when they take out short-term loans from payday loan establishments. Customers desperate to pay the next bill push themselves further into debt when they seek out an average of nine loan payments per year, each one carrying interest rates as high as 400 percent. As a result, more than two out of five borrowers will eventually default, even after paying off their loans.

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